I saw my old friend Ronnie in the cigar shop last week. I hadn’t seen him for several months mostly because he’s a regular there and I’m not. Only because it matters for the story, I’ll mention that Ronnie happens to be black.
Ronnie has his favorite chair at the shop, and if you’re sitting in it when he comes in, he’ll tell you that you’re sitting in his chair. It doesn’t matter if he knows you or not; it’s his chair and he wants it.
Actually, he doesn’t really care about the chair. He just likes to see how people, especially strangers, react when he tells them they’re in his chair. He’s not so big and intimidating that anyone would immediately give up the chair. It’s more like a strange icebreaker. If I’m sitting in it and Ronnie comes in, I just get up and move to another chair. I’d do that for anyone.
Anyhoo, that’s not the story. When I saw him last week, Ronnie wanted to know what I thought about President Trump’s reaction to violence in Charlottesville, Va. One might assume that because Ronnie is black, he would automatically side against the white supremacists who had been rallying there. I wouldn’t make that same assumption, but I would hope that anyone with a shred of decency, white black or purple, would denounce the white supremacy movement. In other words, I would not expect Ronnie’s opinion to be based solely on the color of his skin but rather on the knowledge and logic in his head and the empathy in his heart.
But where one stands on the issue of white supremacy wasn’t the question; the question was whether the President had reacted appropriately.
I’m not a Trump fan for too many reasons to go into here. But I told Ronnie that I could understand what the President was trying to convey but I wish he had been more articulate.
“That’s how I feel,” Ronnie said. “I know what he meant. He just didn’t say it.”
And that’s why I like the cigar shop and why I like Ronnie — not because he readily agreed with me but because we are all able to discuss current events in a civil, friendly way.
That’s not to say there aren’t occasional bursts of passionate argument, but there is mutual respect. And there is a willingness to explore issues underneath the veil of partisanship.
There are people out there who see any opinion as evidence of undue bias. They view any criticism as betrayal. There are those who would take the opinion that Ronnie and I shared and focus on the “but I wish” part and view it as liberal anti-Trump bias. There are others who would focus on the “I understand what he meant” part and view that as fascist pro-Trump rhetoric. Those are the kinds of people one might find at rallies screaming at each other. It seems like we have a lot of those kinds of people around these days.
There is both value and danger in extremism on either side of an issue. On the one hand, people who have strong, one-sided opinions are often dedicated in their quests for change, and they motivate others to join them. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
On the other hand, people are sometimes led to act irrationally. The one who prevails is not necessarily right and just; sometimes he’s just the loudest or the strongest. Sometimes, the bully wins just because he’s a bully.
It gets complicated because the bully isn’t always wrong, but being on the right side doesn’t justify using the wrong tactics. There’s a big difference between bullying and standing your ground but the line between them can be razor thin.
Today, Ronnie and I were in agreement. Tomorrow, maybe we’ll be at odds. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to agree with someone all the time to be his pal. And I’m not going to let someone else’s opinion ruin a fine cigar.
© Copyright 2017 by David Porter who can be reached at email@example.com. To be clear: Bullying is bad, race supremacy is evil and this cigar is delicious.